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Yemen's Low Education Levels, High Poverty Rates Increasing HIV/AIDS Risk, Experts Say

January 8, 2009

High poverty rates and low education levels are contributing to increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in Yemen, especially among commercial sex workers, according to some experts, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Abdul-Hafed al-Ward, secretary-general of the Integrated Care Association for People Living with HIV, said that most cases of HIV/AIDS involve people with low incomes and that "[p]overty and HIV/AIDS go together and wherever the former exists so does the latter." Khaled Abdul-Majid, a program officer at the United Nations Development Program's Sanaa office, said that government institutions do not have the capacity to tackle HIV/AIDS and that a lack of knowledge about the virus leads to fear. He also said that high illiteracy rates contribute to HIV/AIDS-related stigma and that local radio stations "should allocate one hour [a day] to educate people about HIV/AIDS."

Suad al-Qadasi, chair of the Women's Forum for Research and Training, said that there has been a rapid increase in commercial sex work over the past three years and that there will be an increase in the number of HIV/AIDS cases if Yemen does not acknowledge the situation. A WFRT survey on commercial sex work found that people were not willing to admit to its existence, she said, adding that "[d]enying it is a problem as awareness rests on acknowledging that the phenomenon exists."

According to IRIN/PlusNews, 2,493 HIV/AIDS cases were registered by the National Program for Combating AIDS as of September 2008, and UNDP reports that 15.7% of Yemen's population lives on less than $1 per day, with 45.2% living on less than $2 per day. Yemen is ranked 153 out of 177 countries on UNDP's 2007- 2008 Human Development Index. In addition, the Poverty Assessment Report 2007 prepared by UNDP, the World Bank and the Yemeni government found that 34.8% of the country's 21 million people were considered low income (IRIN/PlusNews, 1/7).

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